AFRICANGLOBE – A federal judge in Newark dismissed a lawsuit Friday that was filed by a former student at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, who claimed he was harassed after describing himself as “White African-American” in a cultural diversity class.
U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Chesler sided with lawyers for the medical school, who contended the decision to suspend the student, Paulo Serodio, in May 2007 had little to do with how he identified himself and was more about the sexually explicit material he included in class notes.
Serodio was born in the Republic of Mozambique in southeastern Africa and immigrated to the United States in the 1980’s, eventually becoming an American citizen. He earned a doctorate in neuroscience from New York University in 1995 before attending UMDNJ, according to court papers.
In December 2006, the Serodio published an essay in a school newspaper explaining why he identified himself as a “White African American” in a cultural diversity class in which students were asked to define themselves.
Serodio claimed the school’s dean of student affairs, Dr. Thomas Cohen, warned him against publishing the essay, telling him that his “life and career would suffer irreparably,” according to Serodio’s 2009 discrimination lawsuit.
But Chesler questioned the claims made by Serodio’s attorney, Alexandra Garcia, that the suspension was linked to the essay.
“He makes a leap from the purported conversation with Dr. Cohen about the essay and his suspension, without addressing significant intervening events directly related to the disciplinary charges brought against Serodio,” the judge noted.
Garcia could not be reached for comment.
Specifically, Chesler said that in December 2006, Serodio sent an email to the entire student body promoting a talk he planned to give on diversity.
“Following the talk there will be a master ceremony,” the email said. “I’ll be hung from a tree in front of the Sheraton Hotel, by none other than a Lynch Mob of people that disagree … If I survive, (sic) will be lynched later in the hospital.”
In January 2007 Cohen wrote to Serodio informing him that he had violated several of the school’s rules and policies, including misusing the school’s intranet system to send the email.
Cohen told Serodio that he would have to participate in diversity training and seek counseling, Chesler noted, and that failure to do so would result in disciplinary action.
The same month, the school — which was broken up last year — said Serodio included sexually explicit photographs in what were called “scribe notes” shared with fellow students for a school lecture on “maternal adaptations to pregnancy.”
Included in the notes was a picture of a pregnant woman participating in a bikini contest in what the student described as “lactating lovelies,” the decision said.
The notes, which Cohen said were offensive and violated professional standards of behavior, prompted the dean to push the school to hold disciplinary proceedings against Serodio, the judge said.
“The evidence does not point to ongoing antagonism against Serodio following his December 2006 essay,” Chesler wrote. “Rather, it shows several instances of misconduct by Serodio, leading ultimately to his suspension.”
Serodio did not return to the school until 2010. “Upon his return to school in 2010, as a result of continued harassment and retaliation by students and faculty, the medical school dismissed him from the program,” his attorneys claim in court papers.
Chesler’s decision noted that after his reinstatement, Serodio was dismissed from the school because of “academic failures.”
By: Thomas Zambito